Simón Vega

Arlington, VA | by September 12, 2011

This past July, before he returned to his home in El Sal­vador, I had a chance to meet and chat with sculp­tor Simón Vega at the Arling­ton Arts Cen­ter (AAC). Simón was an inter­na­tional artist-​​in-​​residence at the AAC for one month and we met in his beau­ti­ful sunny stu­dio to talk about his ephemeral sculp­tures, the cold war, and Rocky IV.

Simón is no stranger to the inter­na­tional art scene. He attended grad­u­ate school in Madrid, and has exhib­ited his work in Bal­ti­more, New York, Miami and Mex­ico. This past June, he was in New York cre­at­ing a sculp­ture for the Museo del Barrio’s bien­nial in Socrates Sculp­ture Park.  His friend­ship with Peru­vian Amer­i­can and D.C. artist Jose Ruiz led him to the AAC residency.

Simón grew up in El Sal­vador in the late 70’s and early 80’s when the cold war was well under way when both the U.S. and the Soviet Union were vying for influ­ence in Cen­tral Amer­ica. As a young boy, Simón’s under­stand­ing of global pol­i­tics was con­nected with pop­u­lar cul­ture, Hol­ly­wood movies and video games such as the iconic Rocky Bal­boa, the free spir­ited yet deter­mined Amer­i­can boxer in the Rocky movie series, and Ivan Drago the model stoic Russ­ian who appeared in Rocky IV as Rocky’s rival.

When he found out he would be com­ing to the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. area for the res­i­dency, Simón began con­duct­ing research on the rea­sons behind the large pop­u­la­tion of Sal­vado­rans that immi­grated to the United States and specif­i­cally within the DC area in the 1980’s.  What he found was dur­ing the late 1980’s, at the height of the Sal­vado­ran Civil War, the Rea­gan admin­is­tra­tion was inject­ing large sums of money into the cof­fers of the right wing mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment, and per­mit­ting entrance to thou­sands of Sal­vado­rans who fled their home­land that was erupt­ing with violence.

He came to real­ize the civil war that took place in El Sal­vador in the late 80’s was a bi-​​product of the cold war.  “El Sal­vador and Nicaragua, other coun­tries in the world, were just play spaces for these two big pow­ers.” Play­ing off of this idea, and his love of 80’s pop cul­ture and iconog­ra­phy, Simón had ini­tially intended to cre­ate a series of arcade pieces, yet when he saw the immense space that was to be his stu­dio in AAC, he decided to cre­ate some­thing more grand. Mon­u­men­tal even. Yet still in dia­logue with the effects of the Cold War on ‘our’ trop­i­cal countries.

At this point in his career, Simón’s work is tem­po­rary sculp­tural instal­la­tion. Although heav­ily influ­enced by the infor­mal archi­tec­ture and col­ors of the mar­gin­al­ized neigh­bor­hoods near his home in San Sal­vador, Simón gath­ers mate­r­ial spe­cific to his cur­rent place of work — in this case Wash­ing­ton D.C. and Arling­ton VA.  He told me that he had been impressed with the clean­li­ness and order he encoun­tered in D.C. The scarcity of weath­ered mate­ri­als he col­lected influ­enced the look of the work he made here.  The dis­carded mate­ri­als he found were mainly con­struc­tion mate­ri­als, new pieces of lum­ber and tools; ele­ments that reflected the chang­ing nature of D.C. at the moment.

So with this found mate­r­ial and a head full of exten­sive research con­ducted on the pol­i­tics and cir­cum­stances of the Cold War, he erected “The Anti-​​Monument to the Third World Cold War”. This piece is a tow­er­ing struc­ture that stood in the cen­ter of his stu­dio.  Anti-​​monumental being that it is tem­po­rary rather than endur­ing or per­ma­nent. The con­struc­tion reliant on the ten­sion between the mate­ri­als rather than on an inher­ent sta­bil­ity — a clear ref­er­ence to Tatlin’s Tower which was designed but never con­structed and was to be a utopian mon­u­ment to the work­ers’ rev­o­lu­tion in Russia.

Else­where in the stu­dio were sev­eral other mid-​​scale wall mounted pieces and set up indi­vid­ual pieces  meant to exist in dia­logue with each other.   My two favorites were both built around a cen­tral  lin­ear hori­zon; a pro­gres­sion of events over time.  Appro­pri­ately titled, “Time­line”, made up of dis­carded strips of wood, cut paper, tape, plas­tic tub­ing and curly phone cords, marked a pro­gres­sion of impor­tant his­tor­i­cal events both per­sonal and polit­i­cal. Specif­i­cally events such as World War I & II, Death Squadrons in Cen­tral Amer­ica, rock band KISS’s Hot­ter Than Hell, his parent’s divorce and the release of The Smurfs (2D).  “Time­line” speaks to those events that shape a cul­ture as well as an artist. For the piece titled “Uzis and The Nuclear Threat”,  he turned plas­tic cylin­ders and nylon rope into a rocket launch, and curved lengths of lam­i­nate into a tra­jec­tory.  Through his child­like abil­ity to imbue refuse with mean­ing­ful iden­tity com­bined with his deep under­stand­ing of socio-​​political events, Simón cre­ates work that is both didac­tic and whim­si­cal that exists in a state of delight­ful irony where the high and low brow comingle.

By now Simón is back in El Sal­vador and the work returned to the dump­ster from whence it came.  He told me that he has plans to build a card­board space cap­sule pro­to­type next, and per­haps explore some means of com­mer­cially viable pro­duc­tion.  Although I don’t doubt that any prod­uct Simón would sell would come with a grain of salt as well.  To see more of his work visit http://simon-vega.blogspot.com.


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